episcopal welcoming UPDATE: Episcopal Church Approves Rite of Blessing for Gay UnionsEarlier today I wrote about the Episcopal Church, which added gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination laws yesterday after resolutions passed both houses of that church’s General Convention by overwhelming margins. The votes by the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops affirmed trans people as full members of the church and cleared the way for them to be ordained.

I also mentioned that the House of Bishops, an all-clergy body and the more conservative of the two, voted to approve a liturgy blessing same-sex unions, and that the House of Deputies was expected to approve the measure this week.

Well, the vote happened tonight, and I’m happy to report that, as predicted, the House of Deputies passed the resolution by a vote of 171-41. The Episcopal Church is now the largest mainline Christian denomination in the United States to bless gay and lesbian unions. MSNBC reports that the liturgy approved tonight, titled “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” is expected to go into effect for provisional use starting in December.

USA Today has further information:

Under the new Episcopal measure, each bishop will decide whether to allow the ceremonies in his or her local diocese. The new policy bars any penalty for Episcopalians who oppose its use. . .

During a brief debate at the convention Tuesday, opponents argued that adopting an official liturgy amounted to an endorsement of same-sex marriage with no theological justification for doing so. Episcopal church law and Book of Common Prayer still define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. . .

The official liturgy for same-sex blessings has been in development since 2009, when it was authorized by the last General Convention. Some bishops had already created rites for the ceremonies for use in their own dioceses. But the prayers approved Tuesday are the first such official prayers for use by the entire church . . .

Like the traditional Episcopal wedding, the ceremony includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings. Same-sex couples must complete pre-marital counseling before being married or blessed by the church. The liturgy can be used starting December 2, the first Sunday in Advent.

Clearly, since exclusionary, discriminatory language about marriage still exists in church law and the Book of Common Prayer, work remains to be done on LGBT issues in the Episcopal Church. However, this does not diminish the magnitude of what they’ve just accomplished. Kudos to the Episcopal Church for taking these crucial steps toward the full embrace of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered congregants. The walls of religion-based bigotry continue to tumble down!